The couple, Anuj and Leslie Chopra, were accused of multiple sex crimes involving alleged victims who were high school friends of their then-16-year-old daughter. Anuj Chopra was charged with violating the Michigan human trafficking law. His wife, Leslie Chopra, was charged with distributing obscene material to children and using a computer to commit a crime.
The Chopras, both 43, were first known to law enforcement after they were accused of circulating nude photographs of a female Hudsonville High School student in the summer of 2016. A search warrant was executed at the Chopras’ household looking for electronic copies of the nude photographs. Their daughter was also a student at the school at the time.
Defense attorney Damian Nunzio said no evidence of those photographs was found at the house, but that a “mob mentality” made Hudsonville High School families suspicious of the Chopras.
“Nothing was ever discovered, zilch,” Nunzio said. “After that, they were still blamed and students were warned to stay away from the family.”
After the Chopras’ daughter lost her friend group, students who were friends of the girl whose photo was distributed befriended the Chopras’ daughter, Nunzio said. These new friends included three high school boys, which The Holland Sentinel has previously referred to as “Kyle,” “Chris” and “Adam.” The Sentinel does not publish the identities of alleged victims of sex crimes.
Kyle was allegedly sent several inappropriate Snapchats from Leslie Chopra, screenshots of which were presented in court by the prosecutor’s office last year. Kyle and Adam were allegedly asked by Anuj Chopra to kiss for $100, then were asked to have sex with each other while Anuj Chopra filmed them for $1,000 in December 2016.
Now, Nunzio claims he has evidence that police told the teens to “bait” Leslie Chopra into sending inappropriate messages and that the conversations with Anuj Chopra were jokes.
“The alleged victim revealed in text messages that he was merely joking around with the Chopras and that he was threatened with jail if he did not cooperate with police,” Nunzio said. “The alleged victim said that he told authorities what they wanted to hear.”
Nunzio said it took him over a year to receive the 85,000 text messages that were exchanged between Hudsonville school resource officer Deputy Mike Petroelje, the alleged victim and witnesses, parents and others involved in the case. Nunzio said the evidence was collected by a Holland Police Department detective, not an Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office employee, in an effort to keep the evidence from him.
“I fought for these text messages and the police were claiming they were confidential,” Nunzio said. “I uncovered some pretty hefty stuff. The kids were mocking filling out victim impact statements and they admitted to joking around with the Chopras. I don’t think anybody thought I was ever going to get my hands on those texts.”
The Sheriff’s Office, though, said Petroelje did nothing wrong during the investigation.
“I think, sadly, Mr. Nunzio is misinformed with many issues,” said Capt. Mark Bennett, who heads the Sheriff’s Office investigative division. “He hasn’t taken the time to learn that we have a combined computer forensics lab with the Holland Police Department and, as per the memo of understanding, a Holland detective downloaded the text messages, which were immediately turned over to the Sheriff’s Office.”
Bennett said he didn’t “see anything improper in the case” involving the Chopras on the Sheriff’s Office’s end.
“What further is disturbing is that (Nunzio) is asserting there’s some sinister plot to somehow influence the case,” Bennett said. “New evidence came to light, that is true, but not by the virtue of the Sheriff’s Office or the court trying to hide something.”
Nunzio said the Chopra family is “relieved” the charges against them were dropped after the Prosecutor’s Office told the Grand Rapids Press “further investigation uncovered significant exculpatory evidence that resulted in a dismissal.”
“For the family to have to relive these allegations is not nice,” the attorney said. “But there’s a lot of blame to go around. Obviously, there was pressure placed on the kids to say certain things and testify, but the text messages said the opposite, what the kids really believed. To continue on with this and putting the kids in this situation, I think the kids should have been man enough to tell somebody what was going on.”
Bennett said that just because the Prosecutor’s Office decided to drop the charges against the couple, that doesn’t necessarily mean nothing happened at the Chopra household.
“Sometimes cases are dismissed and that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a crime committed, it just means the Prosecutor’s Office chose not to prosecute it,” he said. “That’s why we have the system we have.”